Movie & TV reviews by Anne Brodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI
The comedy The Last Word stars Shirley MacLaine as Harriet Lauler, who is retired following a high powered career with no outlet for her demanding nature, no friends and no personal interests. She’s lonely and frustrated and decides to set things right by reconnecting with her estranged daughter (Anne Heche) and ex-husband and fixing problems she created. The she can see what the sum total of her life looks like. She hires Anne, a less-than-enthusiastic local newspaper reporter (Amanda Seyfried) to write her obit in hopes of finding what it was all about. The two grate on each other’s nerves because Harriet can’t help herself. She is the bull in a china shop and Anne isn’t having it. Despite the frost, they embark on a road trip in search of Harriet’s people and places, along with a feisty little whippersnapper they’re mentoring. Slowly the ice begins to break and the trip morphs into an opportunity for growth and love. The trip awakens new levels of awareness and compassion and they find what Harriet is looking for. The lesson is that sometimes lives are complete and sometimes they can be changed even at the last moment if our hearts are open. Mark Pellington directs The Last Word as funny, sweet natured but not artificial, encouraging and beautifully balanced by strong performances.
Anne Marie Fleming’s award winning animated Window Horses featuring the voices of Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, Don McKellar and Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo was a major find at TIFF. A Chinese Canadian girl, whose late father was Persian, lives with her ultra-traditional grandparents in Winnipeg and writes poetry in secret. Somehow her work gets out and she is invited to a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran. Her grandparents reluctantly let her go on the trip that ultimately changes her life, increasing her world view. She meets people from around the world, learns about their cultures and the universal threads that hold all people together, whether its art, relationships or just being who we are. Window Horses is unique, visually stunning, incredibly moving and endlessly witty with timely messages of inclusion, diversity and the power of art to unite us. This is animation for grownups but kids will benefit in many ways. Window Horses is on TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten list.
Hello, Destroyer is a revelation. As slow-moving, internal and quiet as its filmmaking may be, this story of a young hockey star’s downfall is an emotional bomb. He accidentally injures a player during an on-ice melee and his world implodes. The coaches hurl abuses at the players when they lose and tell them to do whatever it takes to win; he takes them at their word and gets involved in an on-ice melee. His opponent is accidentally critically injured and he takes the blame. He’s suspended, reviled in the media and in his community, beaten by angry street thugs and his parents, best friends and teammates abandon him. The team coaches and owners who asked for physical strikes deny him. This is Greek tragedy set in the hockey world of Prince Rupert, B.C. that makes us wonder how widespread these abuses are. Gifted young actor Jared Abrahamson, who is also a miner and extreme fighter, and hails from Flin Flon, knocks it out of the park. It’s gripping viewing and a devastating statement on competitive athletics gone wrong. Wow.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm is a low-key, but highly detailed slice of life of a Japanese detective slash author over the course of a few days. He’s trying to raise money for his estranged wife and children by selling his stuff and gambling but he’s getting nowhere. He learns his father was a deadbeat so he knows he gets his shortcomings honestly so he tries to do better. While on a walk in the park with his ex-mother-in-law he has his only stress-free moments. They chatter, watch a butterfly and enjoy one another’s company. Later a typhoon forces him, his ex-wife and child to take shelter in a children’s park sculpture where they pass the time pleasantly and blamelessly. The story is told with simplicity and grace; it’s charming, airy and sweetly enjoyable. Nothing much happens but it’s also true that everything does. A day in someone’s life is a gift.
Acorn TV fans, hands up who would like to tour the production locations for Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Agatha Raisin, and Downton Abbey? Acorn offers contestants the chance to travel with its first ever tour The Best of Acorn TV: 7 Day Tour of England. Tickets sold out in three days but two were kept behind for a contest winner and a friend. The tour takes place July 10 – 16, hitting Windsor, Bath, Cornwall, Sidmouth, Bristol, Oxfordshire, and Dorchester with stops at Windsor Castle, Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey), Port Isaac (Doc Martin), the Ashton Court Estate (Agatha Raisin) and the Greenway Estate (Agatha Christie’s home). The winner and guest will stay in deluxe accommodations with superior meals and enjoy surprise behind-the-scenes moments and a special guest at Christie’s summer home. The prize includes entry to the tour, hotel accommodations and other items. Airfare is excepted. Enter online now until the end of March at http://www2.acorn.tv/tourofengland.
Force Majeure on Netflix is a dark comedy gem. A sudden avalanche at an Alpine ski resort threatens to smother guests eating on an outdoor balcony. A vacationing Swedish family hits a tipping point when the father flees without his wife and children in a squirmingly hilarious and oh-so-dark laff fest.
The magnificent fact-based The Diving Bell and the Butterfly features Mathieu Amalric as author and Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke in 1995 that rendered him mute and paralyzed. We see from his point of view what is happening as he forms new ideas of himself and what is important.